Bringing More Girls and Women Across India into Science and Technology

On February 11, we celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Women have made incredible achievements in science and technology for centuries, often unknown to the world or only honored retrospectively.

The role of women in science became more acknowledged in 1903, when Marie Curie became the first women to win a Nobel Prize in Physics, and then went on to win a second Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911. Curie is one example of countless female scientists and engineers who have helped achieve scientific breakthroughs and social progress.

However, there are still not enough women in the sciences today. Not every girl or women has the opportunity to follow Marie Curie’s footsteps. Data from the UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) shows that less than 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women. To reduce that gender gap, we need to help more women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Gender equality in science and technology is not only vital to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, it is also a critical element for creating a flourishing culture of innovation in the enterprise. A highly diverse team with different perspectives and skill sets fuels a company’s ability to innovate and stay competitive.

The commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equality is a core element of SAP’s business strategy and purpose. Our goal is to increase the number of women in leadership positions year-over-year to 30 percent women by the end of 2022. Last year, SAP Labs India was honored to be named among the Best Workplaces for Women by the Great Place to Work Institute. We have made good progress, but we also realize that creating a great workplace for women is not enough. Not all girls and women have access to education that will allow them to pursue a career in science and technology, particularly those from rural regions. We decided to set programs in place in India that help girls and women across the country to get access to education and IT skills training.

One year ago, we launched new regional and national educational initiatives that had a focus on bringing more girls and women into technology professions in partnership with the Indian government.

One is a collaboration with the Department of Information Technology, Biotechnology, and Science & Technology (ITBT) of the Government of Karnataka in India, a part of ITBT’s “Yuva Yuga” program, to give underprivileged youth access to technology skills training. In 2018 alone, we jointly taught more than 5,000 youth across the state of Karnataka, with about half of these students being women. The initiative focuses on developing Industry 4.0 skills, with a focus on data science and machine learning.

The second program is a partnership with the Indian government (NITI Aayog) to adopt 100 Atal Tinkering Laboratories (ATL) to promote STEM education among secondary school children across India. Approximately 52 percent of all students are girls. The initiative is building skill sets for the Internet of Things, robotics, digital skills, and data visualization, and teaches key programming languages, including C/C++ and Java Script.

We have also been running a Rural Digital Skills Development Initiative in Rajasthan since 2017 with 30 towns. Based on its positive results, we plan to expand this program to 230 towns this year. To equip women with digital skills, we introduced five mobile vans that exclusively teach to female students who are not able to travel or have to drop out of their education due to familial reasons. Our plans to expand the initiatives into more locations this year aims to train and upskill around 60,000 young women and men for entry-level jobs.

We’ve learned that broadening access to education entails more than setting up the infrastructure, the school, classes, materials, and transportation. First and foremost, it requires overcoming stereotypes. Part of all the programs is educating the families about the opportunities girls can have with access to education. Only when girls can see the possibilities for their future and get access to education can we achieve gender parity in science and technology — not just in India, but globally.

Learn more about the Rural Skills Development Initiative in Bharatpur:

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Dilipkumar Khandelwal is president of SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud and managing director of SAP Labs India.

The article was originally published on SAP Innovation Spotlight on Medium.